Slow, but incremental: The COP26 delivered a completed rule book for the mplementation of the Paris Agreement but progress in real terms lags behind the action required | Photo: Sydney News Today

Climate action took centre stage this year, but spotlight still not bright enough

2021 was the year of the all-important COP26. From the very beginning, the UN and governments around the world seemed determined to make climate a top issue. The year began with Joe Biden becoming the president of the United States of America. And his first order of business was to rejoin the Paris Agreement. He also made climate change a national security priority, and rolled back more than 100 environment regulations formulated by the Trump administration. 

In February, India’s budget was announced and it was bad news for the environment. The Centre slashed the environment ministry’s budget for 2021-2022 to ₹2,869.93 crore, much less than the previously allocated ₹3,100 crore. Schemes such as the Climate Change Action Plan (CCAP), National Adaptation Fund (NAF) and Integrated Development of Wildlife Habitats (IDWH) suffered major cuts. The only increase was seen in the budgetary allocation for ‘Control of pollution’ and the National Coastal mission.

China, meanwhile, reinstated climate expert and veteran negotiator Xie Zhenhua as its climate envoy, a move seen as a response to the US’ appointment of John Kerry as its special climate envoy. This has so far worked out well for the shaky US-China relationship, and culminated with both countries vowing to work together to enhance their climate action in the coming decade. 

The EU adopted its ‘Fit for 55’ climate plan in July. The plan includes a series of packages that will make the region’s policies on climate, transport, energy use, taxation and land use suitable for greenhouse gas emissions to be reduced by 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels. 

The trend of net-zero announcements, which was at its peak in 2020, spilled into this year as well. Germany vowed to do it by 2045, while the USA pledged to go carbon neutral by 2050. UAE became the first Gulf petro-state to commit to a fully decarbonised economy and achieve net zero by 2050. Saudi Arabia vowed to do it by 2060 along with strengthening its carbon target in the next 10 years. Russia committed to become carbon neutral by 2060 as well. At the COP26 in November, Indian Prime Minister took the world by surprise by committing to net-zero by 2070

The year ended on a bittersweet note. There wasn’t a lot that was achieved at the much-hyped COP26. While the conference did finalise a rulebook on how to implement the Paris Agreement, issues related to climate finance, and loss and damage, which have been the cause of rising tensions between the Global North and South, still remain unresolved.